FOX Sports Exclusive
Maroney slips to silver in vault
Just six vaults. That was what McKayla Maroney’s Olympics, what much of her life, had been designed around. She had done five, each beautiful and brilliant and helping push her team to the top of the podium and get herself to this final attempt to take home the individual gold.
One more to go.
She knew it was off as it began, but there was no turning back. She would have to fight through it. She was the seventh of eight vaulters to go, each of whom would vault twice and take the average as their scores. Her lead was so large it seemed inconceivable anything could go wrong.
Her first vault had garnered her a 15.866, a huge score worthy of her enormous talent, and her nearest opponent had an average of 15.050. Next up after her was Romania’s Sandra Raluca Izbasa, a very good vaulter but not capable of reaching such a lofty score. Stick the landing and Maroney was there.
“Through this whole Olympics time I have not fallen on my butt on that,” she said later.
Maroney hit the vault, and it was wrong. She hadn’t gotten her full block and her hands hadn’t really touched the vault, and then she was in the air.
This was a life’s work coming down to about seven seconds. When she landed and her bottom thudded into the padding and the shock hit her and everyone watching, there was a silence, the crowd sucking in its breath.
Then the score: 14.3. Awful. And though her average left her in first, it also left Izbasa with a chance to come out and do two fine vaults, to land them and be the gold medalist. And that’s just what she did.
“It’s hard to watch, because I know I can do better vaults and I know I can get that gold medal,” Maroney said afterward. “But I knew I didn’t deserve the gold medal if I land on my butt. When she hit both of her vaults, I knew it was silver.”
So it was Izbasa in gold with an average of 15.191, Maroney with silver at 15.083 and Russia’s Maria Paseka with the bronze with an average score of 15.050.
There wasn’t much to say afterward. What Maroney does on the vault – the grace and power of her Yurchenko, the 2 1/2 twists, the power and height and speed of it – is so much better than what anyone else on Earth can do on a vault, there is no comparison. So to have silver and not the gold, what could you say?
Maroney came out anyway and tried to say something, the right thing, whatever that is. She said how proud she was. She fought the tears. Held them back. Said silver was a great accomplishment. That it was a privilege. Then, before moving to another group of reporters, she turned around and tried her best to cry in private.
Her coach hugged her, a USA Gymnastics official rubbed her back and Maroney steeled herself and moved on to answer more questions. A single solitary tear came with her, clinging to her cheek. As she said all the right things. As she tried to bury her disappointment and not look devastated by a silver medal.
Then someone asked her about the tears and the disappointment and it all came out.
“It’s more just like a shock a little bit,” she said. “I really wanted to – I wasn’t focused on getting the gold medal. I just wanted to prove to everybody that I can hit two vaults and that I can do my best for USA.” She was crying again. “That’s what I’m disappointed about. I’ve trained so hard and just on this day it didn’t go …” and she trailed off, crying and trying to compose herself again.
It was just one bad vault on one day, and that, too, is part of the Olympics. The best on Earth at what she does, the person who under great pressure has five times vaulted so purely and beautifully none could match her, stumbled on the sixth.
That’s the Olympics: Seven seconds – a hair’s breath of time – can and often does change everything.
“Sometimes,” she said, “things don’t go as you plan, but I wouldn’t blame it on anything else other than I messed up.”
You can follow Bill Reiter on Twitter or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.